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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Only Advertisement Most Books Ever Get

I enjoyed the feature in the Times Book Review last week showing rejected book cover designs, but this version is so much better, since it presents the "winning" designs alongside for easy comparison.

The next logical step: Publishers should present two or three alternative designs online and let prospective readers choose their favorite.  Better still, the publisher could count the "votes" by inviting readers to click on book covers for more information or to pre-order the title.  The image that draws the most clicks would be the one to get printed.

This is such an obvious use of social media that I am baffled as to why it hasn't already been done.  Unless it has, in which case I would love to hear about it.


  1. I don't know if it's been done, but what an interesting idea, and a great way to build pre-pub buzz. You could also use it in a raffle-like way - the first X number of people to vote get a bound galley.

    I admit that part of me shivers when I think about adding more voices and opinions to the mix for book jackets - they are so fraught as it is with group decisionmaking. But if you can get it down to 2-3 versions the publisher (and the author!) feel they could go with, then whatever the final verdict turns out to be, it might be something of a relief to put the final determination in public hands.

  2. I understand your shivers. It can be torture when a roomful of people spend 20 minutes debating a cover design based on nothing but intuition and subjective individual reactions. But after all the purpose of the cover is to get people to pick up the book--so having actual data about what people are attracted to, rather than having to guess as we now do, might be a useful way to end the pointless debates rather than to extend them.

  3. At the risk of sounding elitist, this sounds like a surefire way to arrive at the lowest common denominator. I remember sitting with a roomful of people talking about which jacket design would be most appropriate for a book most of them hadn't read. Now you're inviting an untold number of people who not only haven't read the book but who also may know nothing about design and in fact never read to vote on the "best jacket." Is this really a good idea? Has anyone ever watched The People's Choice Awards?

  4. Notice what I said in my post: The idea would be to pre-test covers by seeing which one people click on "for more information or to pre-order the title." So we are polling people who are interested in buying books, not people who never read.

    Then there's the "elitism" issue. There's a fine line here. If I were working on a brilliant literary work that I was convinced had lasting esthetic value, and if a designer had come up with a cover that captured the book's meaning in a magnificently creative fashion that all the key players (including the marketing chief, the editor, and the author) loved, then I certainly wouldn't submit the design to a vote by readers.

    But if I were working on a good, solid book that I hoped would attract a large number of readers (and make nice money for the publisher and the author in the process), and if a designer had come up with two or three designs all of which were accurate and attractive, and if there was a split decision among the key players as to which design would be most commercially successful, then actually testing the options by submitting them to readers would seem to me to be a very useful process.

    Yes, this is more akin to creating the package for a new toothpaste than to designing an edition of Ulysses with illustrations by Matisse. But I haven't worked with that many James Joyces or Matisses in my career anyway . . .

  5. That's a lot of "ifs," but, of course, I do see your point. On the other hand, isn't it fun to argue?